There is apparently plenty of interest in ICQ, the instant messaging platform that AOL (NYSE: AOL) is seeking to unload as a non-core asset.

Russia's Vedomosti -- a business daily -- is reporting that three companies have submitted binding offers to buy ICQ. The bidders include China's Tencent (OTC BB: TCTZF.PK) and Russia's ProfMedia and Digital Sky Technologies. It's not a surprise to see the hungriest buyers coming from abroad, given ICQ's global popularity.

Web-based chat platforms are popular among search engines. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) are big players here. AOL will still have AIM, unless that platform also winds up on the trading block.

The problem with IM formats is that they have been tricky to monetize, perhaps explaining why Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has never thrown a lot of weight behind Google Talk.

Online chat does have promising corporate applications. LivePerson (Nasdaq: LPSN) is growing nicely after perfecting a proactive platform that has helped it woo more than 8,000 corporate clients. However, it's a lot harder to cash in on the typically young users of leisure chat applications.

It also doesn't help that social-networking giant Facebook is offering text chats between friends within its own platform.

Any sale that involves more than one potential buyer typically benefits the seller, and the sale of ICQ will be no different. AOL was spun off by Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) four months ago, and shareholders will expect more out of the former dot-com rock star now that it stands alone.

It may be too late for AOL to sell its fading access business, but with a former Google executive in charge, one shouldn't dismiss its potential to matter again in cyberspace. The game may be addition by subtraction at the moment, but selling what's hot is better than breaking into a fire sale.

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